Growing little foodies

Parents spend countless hours trying to make informed decisions about the food they choose to feed their children. But what happens when it’s time for those kids to do their own shopping? Teaching my daughter from an early age to have an appreciation of where our food came from and how to prepare it was the foundation of her ability to make good food decisions as a 20-year-old college student.

As a chef, I trained using the best ingredients and as a scientist, I see the results of poor dietary decisions, so my food philosophy begins at the intersection of health and taste. It was important for me to help my daughter understand how her overall health would be impacted by the choices we made in the kitchen. One of the easiest places to begin is the produce section at the grocery. Selecting fresh produce together taught her not only how to pick the best looking fruit and vegetables from what was available, but also helped her find ownership in the dishes we were going to prepare with it, and, best of all, we were doing it together.SpaughPostThumbnail

Another fun experience we shared was the year my daughter’s classroom read Cranberry Thanksgiving by Wende and Harry Devlin. She wanted to know, could we make the bread they talked about in the book? Of course we could! What a great holiday memory shopping for the ingredients and making this bread together.

Here are some other ideas to get your child excited about the food they eat:

  • Plant a vegetable or herb garden with your children. My daughter loves tomatoes, so enlisting her help with the plants each summer was an easy way to connect the garden to the table. Whether sliced with fresh basil and mozzarella, or simply picked from the vine, she still gets excited about enjoying a home-grown tomato.
  • Cook with your kids. Yes, it can be messy and, at times, a bit chaotic. Yet, it is one of the easiest ways to demonstrate how a meal comes together. And, if they help prepare it, they are likely to be more excited about eating it. I made age-appropriate kitchen tools available for my young “chef” to use, including a small knife, measuring cups and spoons, mixing bowls and rubber spatulas. They were hers, and she took great pride in using them to contribute to the family meal.
  • Walk the walk. You can’t expect your children to want to try new things or make healthy choices if they see you reaching for convenience foods. It was helpful to engage my daughter in menu planning by presenting a couple of choices. For example, “Would you like roasted chicken or pork chops one night this week?” Then, follow through serving their stated preference and engage them in the preparation of the meal.
  • Give your kids a voice to try something new. Ask them why they make one food choice over another. For instance, my daughter wasn’t a huge fan of steamed or raw vegetables. However, upon asking how she might like them, we tried roasting, and, after that, the sky was the limit; all veggies were in play.
  • Begin with something as simple as recreating “Kid Cuisine” style meals. Rather than pull them from the freezer section at the grocery, talk with your children about which flavors they would like (an entrée, a vegetable, macaroni and cheese, a dessert). Consider purchasing sectioned plates and make the meal together. Perhaps opting for grilled chicken nuggets rather than fried and a roasted veggie. Be sure to celebrate how cool it is that they created their own meal.

My daughter now enjoys the satisfaction of being able to create her own meals for friends and family using ingredients she recognizes from the time we spent in the kitchen and at the grocery when she was young. Never underestimate the potential of your young chef or budding master gardener by simply getting them interested in where their food comes from and how they can make it healthy and taste great.

KimmSpaughHeadshotGuest blogger Kimm Spaugh is executive chef and CEO of Chef With Style. A culinary school graduate, clinical laboratory scientist and, most important, a mom, Kimm enjoys food and beverage adventures with her family.